Ulster can 'absolutely' win the Guinness PRO14 title, argues Jordi Murphy
Having won the PRO14 a year ago in the blue of his native Leinster, Ulster's Jordi Murphy is targeting back-to-back successes this season and sees no reason why his new side can't be crowned champions in Glasgow next month.
The northern province will be up against Murphy's former employers at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (5.15pm kick-off) in the regular season finale but, with both sides locked into their position in the table, it's a week later against Connacht in the quarter-finals when stakes will be at their highest.
Having already exceeded pre-season expectations, Murphy aims to continue doing so.
"I absolutely think we can win the league," said the Irish international. "We've Leinster this weekend but as we all know it won't change our position.
"Connacht is a big one, an inter-pro.
"We'll be honest about it, we've underperformed twice against them now this season, especially losing at home for the first time in I don't know how long (58 years). We've a point to prove.
"Looking forward, it would either be Glasgow or Munster (in the semi-finals), depending on how things work out this weekend. It's cup finals all the way."
For all the strides Ulster have made in the first year of Dan McFarland's stewardship, that is one area of concern.
As Murphy points out, there have been a number of one-off performances to remember, such as the agonising Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster, but the type of consistency required to win trophies is the next step on the journey.
"For example, we played the game against Leinster, one of our performances of the season," Murphy recalled.
"Six days later, we had an absolute shocker away to Glasgow.
"That brought us back down to earth. It wasn't a physical hangover, it was an emotional one.
"The real quality teams do it week in, week out. We can't front up one week and turn around the next.
"But we've a very young squad, only three boys in their 30s and the rest all in their 20s. These are all learning experiences."
That Leinster game, of course, had special meaning for Murphy, representing his first time playing against his boyhood club since making the move north last summer.
This week's contest, which could yet see Murphy and a host of other frontliners rested for the battles ahead, won't have near the same personal or professional importance.
But reflecting on events in the Aviva Stadium last month, the openside thinks Ulster have at long last given Leinster something to think about.
"It was a strange one," he said of the heartbreaking last-eight reverse. "All week there was the elephant in the room, it was Leinster, my boyhood club and obviously I hadn't played against them yet. It was one of those things.
"There was a good build-up, we put in some good performances in Europe and we really thought we could give them a scare. Historically Ulster haven't bothered Leinster, haven't done anything to merit that, but what better occasion to come out all guns blazing and pull off a huge upset. Unfortunately, we came up short.
"It was a mixed bag. There were a lot of players who wouldn't have played in that high-octane environment, in front of that crowd, against a side as good as that.
"It's put us in a good place for the future to know we can hit that level."